Homemade chilli oil with cumin, coriander, and sesame

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A deep, dark, fragrant chilli oil which goes with everything. Perfect for any weather: easily adds zing to cold food and brings toasty fragrance and welcome heat on days when you want something warm to warm you up.

It’s just what I need right now. English autumns in cities are subdued, which is to say everything is grey and cold, with maybe some muted colours on the trees for a week or two. Those leaves, and a few degrees, are the difference between autumn and winter here, a shrug and a sigh at the end of the calendar. But I do enjoy the occasional crisp day with blue skies and leaves incarnadine, for which I happily layer knitwear under tweed, and I’m increasingly in the mood for hot chocolate, Cadbury’s or homemade.

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So, this chilli oil. Any and all chilli oil is what I add to comfort food, since I am soothed by hurt. I have two favourites: Chiu Chow chilli oil and this one, fragrant with Sichuan peppercorns, cumin, coriander, and sesame seeds. There is truly no one type of chilli oil; this is simply the recipe I enjoy best. A spoonful very easily adds very welcome fat and flavour to many dishes, making meagre pickings into something complex and satisfying. As for heat, I personally find this very mild, but your mileage may vary. I mean… this is chilli oil, so there will be some level of spice.

As I’ve recently replenished my supply, I’ll share the recipe and tell you how I’ve enjoyed this chilli oil these past few months:

Cold
Bon bon chicken (Sichuan; finely shredded chicken with tangy chilli sauce, excellent for using up a leftover chicken breast)
Mouthwatering chicken  (Sichuan; white-cut chicken in a tangy chilli sauce with peanuts)
Dry-tossed fresh egg noodles (bamee haeng)
Drizzled over tofu or fresh, crisp vegetables

Hot
A good spoonful in glass noodle soup or wonton noodle soup
Rice ribbons, storebought fresh or dried ho fun, or make these if you have/can put together a large steamer
Lady & Pup’s spicy cumin lamb hand-smashed noodles, though I made mine with pork tenderloin. These are gorgeous and easy hand-made wheat noodles, and the only machine you need is a mixer with dough hooks. The ones that come with a hand mixer, though usually derided as weak, are actually perfect in this application.

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SICHUAN CHILI OIL

Half a recipe from Lady & Pups. Makes 1 x 335g/11 oz. jar, keeps for about 2 weeks, chilled.
(I recommend you make a full recipe if you’re better organised than me and have a good number of clean, preserve-ready jars available and available fridge-space!)

I’ve broken up the ingredients and steps into corresponding groups so you don’t forget anything. At least, this is what makes sense to me.

A note on Sichuan peppercorns and chilli flakes: I highly recommend ordering these online, they’re much fresher and more fragrant than anything I’ve ever found in a brick-and-mortar shop. I got my Sichuan peppercorns from chilliesontheweb and the chilli flakes from chilliwizards for a few quid each on eBay.

Ensure the specified ingredients are toasted before proceeding; giving them a heat start really does make the finished oil more fragrant, not to mention the spices are far easier to grind if you’re doing it by hand.

Updated in 2016 to reflect the workflow I actually use.

ingredients

A (toast this first):

1 1/2 tbsp whole red Sichuan peppercorn, lightly toasted and ground, kept separate from everything else

B:

1 1/2 tsp whole coriander seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1 tsp whole cumin seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1.5 tbsp white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
25 grams good quality Sichuan or Korean chili flakes
1/4 tsp any curry powder you like
2 whole star anise
1 dried bay leaf
250 ml sunflower or canola oil

C:
2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and pounded into bits or finely grated
1 tbsp any soy sauce you like

instructions

Choose a heavy-bottomed pot where 250 ml oil will come up no more than halfway.

A: Choose a heavy-bottomed pot where 250 ml oil will come up no more than halfway. Gently dry-toast the Sichuan peppercorns in this pot, remove to a mortar, and grind as finely as you can. Transfer to a small dish or cup; have it handy by the stove.

B: Next, dry toast the cumin and coriander together and remove to grind. Add the sesame seeds to the pot, toasting until golden and nutty, leaving it in the pot. Return the ground cumin and coriander to the pot, along with everything else in list B. Remove from heat for now.

C: Pound the garlic cloves in the mortar and combine with the soy sauce. Scrape into a small dish or cup, again having it handy by the stove.

Bring all list B ingredients to a gentle simmer over a medium-high heat and watch carefully, stirring constantly for about 1 – 2 minutes or until chilli flakes darken just slightly from red to brown.

A: Immediately remove pot from heat and add the ground sichuan peppercorn, frying in the residual heat for 10 seconds.

C: Finally, add the soy sauce-garlic mixture. Stir until bubbling subsides.

Pot into warm sterilised glass jars. Leave to sit at room temperature for at least 2 hours before using, ideally overnight. Store in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

Since the spices settle unevenly, it’s important to give the chilli oil a good stir before using generously. Use lots of the aromatic sediment—except for the whole star anise and bay leaf, it’s all edible. You won’t want to waste a single drop.

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